Haaland, Native American Caucus Implore FCC to Grant Emergency Broadband Authority in Indian Country

April 27, 2020
Press Release

Albuquerque, N.M. – Today, Congresswoman Deb Haaland (NM-01) led a Congressional Native American Caucus letter imploring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to grant Indian Tribes temporary authority of available spectrum to create broadband infrastructure on tribal lands during the coronavirus pandemic. Disproportional access to wireless connectivity on reservations limits access to life-saving health and public safety services, telehealth, education, and employment opportunities for Native American communities across the country. In a bipartisan letter signed by 15 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Haaland and the Caucus specifically asked for emergency temporary authority to employ the use, on a secondary non-interference basis, of 2.5 GHz spectrum, and other available, cost-efficient broadband infrastructure on tribal lands. 

“Connectivity barriers have created enormous disadvantages for tribal members and others living on reservations, limiting access to basic telehealth services, and making it difficult to perform fundamental activities like quickly sending patient information between health facilities and adequately uploading information. The lack of broadband and wireless services prevents tribal families from being able to connect students to educational services, connect to digital platforms for employment purposes, and receive general public safety services, among other numerous additional activities that are supported by access to wireless platforms,” the Members wrote.

According to the Government Accountability Office, approximately 50 percent of Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities still depend on outdated wireless connections, which leads to response times longer than any other health facility system in the country. In addition, the lack of wireless connectivity in Indian Country has left approximately 1.5 million people on tribal lands without access to fundamental services, which is lower than some third world countries.

The letter was co-signed by Congressional Native American Caucus Co-Chair Tom Cole, Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján, Chair of the Natural Resources Committee Raúl M. Grijalva, and Representatives Grace F. Napolitano, Tony Cárdenas, Suzan K. DelBene, Derek Kilmer, Betty McCollum, Ruben Gallego, Tom O'Halleran, Alcee L. Hastings, Kendra S. Horn, Jared Huffman, and Sharice L. Davids.

Full text of the letter to the FCC is available here.